When the last little eye lid of my last little child has finally closed for the night, I sit down on the couch to relax and do what parents everywhere do: scroll through my various social media apps to see what went on in the world while I wasn’t looking.
Beautiful faces of children smile back at me, adorable candid shots of babies and dogs. Amazing scenic vacation shots of Colorado mountains, tropical beaches, local dive bars, and European cafés satiate my touch screen. Mostly, I think kind and happy thoughts about the people in the pictures.
But every now and then, when I see these pictures – when I see an unbelievably gorgeous black and white image of a couple on a date night looking so…PERFECT – I feel a bit jealous. Here are these people looking shiny and beautiful and happy! How can that be real?! And that picture they posted last week of their brand new baby swaddled up, so stinking cute. They must want everyone to think this is real!
And then I remember how hard the days get. I remember the mornings we (“we” being the collective parents of the world) are woken up with a barrage of extreme sounds (toddlers crying from cribs), awful smells (poopy diapers on said toddlers), and demands (breakfast, cartoons, our sanity).
Hot coffee is our best friend, and yet we only get to take a few sips before we are pulled away, leaving it to grow cold and sad, alone on the counter, while we chase an infant with a marker and fend off an eight-year-old trying to steal our phone to play Pokémon Go in his pajamas.
Our lovely coffee has to be reheated, at which point it tastes like crap. I remember the driving schedules, the daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, the oodles and oodles of craft projects the kids bring home that require a profound amount of brain power to figure out what to do with, and summon extreme guilt when we end up throwing most of it away in the end.
I remember the cleaning and the laundry, the rushed meals we never fully get to enjoy ourselves because we have to get up from the table 18 times to get milk, a spoon, a napkin, more cheese, another spoon because the first one fell on the floor and the dog licked it.
I remember baby puke, kid puke, husband puke during a bad stomach flu that assaults the whole family. The sick days we don’t get to take because there’s no one to step in when we get the flu and so have to sit in the car with a barf bag, sweating bullets and unable to stand upright without vomiting or passing out, while the kids get on the bus for their first day of summer camp.
I remember the hours of homework and time we put into our kids, the effort we put into our houses to make them lovely, warm, happy places for our kids to come home to. I think about all the parents who work their tails off night and day in an office, in a car, in a restaurant, on a playground, on a plane, building beautiful lives for their families.
When you think about all that time spent and all those humble hours making meals for others, making beds, making lunches, and making money just to pay for clothes and toys they grow out of in a minute, and maybe a babysitter once in a while…it seems that picture-perfect moment gleaming on Facebook for all our friends to see (and maybe feel a tad bit jealous about) is pretty heroic. I would even say it is damn well deserved.
Somehow, the perfect picture worthy of a post on Instagram dares to pull us out of the trenches for one gleaming moment, holding up a hand into the murky air and shouting, “There! See! It is all worth it!” It says there is value to our herculean efforts, which, intrinsically we know deep down inside our weary souls, but end up doubting anyway.
Our pictures somehow remind us again that we are doing a beautiful job even when it doesn’t feel like it. They tell one tiny bit of a story that is otherwise organized chaos – as my eight-year-old likes to call it. For one smidgen of a moment, all the stars aligned and that breathtaking image emerged from the dust. And by golly, people need to see it.
Life is crazy hard. We don’t try to be perfect, or assume for a moment that we can even come close. But we do our best, and we get excited when the sun sets at just the right angle to gleam its glittering rays all over us at just the right moment so we can catch it and hold it up for the world to see. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It reminds me that we are all in this sacred sphere together. Life is completely imperfect and crazy, a beautiful mess that we continue to find ourselves in, day after day. And yet that is where the truth lies and the extraordinary pieces of hard work are revealed.
If you can adjust your lens and look into the pictures from the place where I’m sitting, you’ll see that the imperfect is where the perfect shows up.